Judge's appointment was historic first in state

Mabel E. Hubbard 1936-2006

December 12, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTER

Mabel E. Hubbard, the first African-American woman to serve as a judge of the District Court of Maryland and later the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, died Saturday at Atrium Village, an Owings Mills assisted-living facility, of complications from a fall. She was 69.

In 1981, Gov. Harry R. Hughes appointed her to the District Court and four years later to the Circuit Court.

She retired from the bench in August 1999.

"She had a stellar career and took seriously her responsibility as the first African-American woman judge in the state. She served with distinction and touched a great many people along the way," Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals said yesterday. "She also mentored many African-American women. Her influence will be felt for years."

"Her appointment was history making, and what's even more amazing is that it wasn't until the 1980s that we got a black woman on the bench in Maryland," said Marcella A. Holland, administrative judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of incorrect information supplied to The Sun, the place of death and names of survivors were misstated in an obituary for retired Circuit Judge Mabel E. Hubbard that appeared yesterday on Page 1A. Judge Hubbard died at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital, where she had resided since September.
Survivors include two sons, Robert C. Hubbard of Washington and John Albert Houze Hubbard of Baltimore; and two brothers, Albert Houze of Garland, Texas, and Edward Houze of Philadelphia.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"She was a woman of great dignity who had lots of humanity. She cared about people and didn't have a petty bone in her body," said Baltimore Circuit Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman, a colleague and longtime friend.

She was born Mabel Evelyn Houze on Dec. 22, 1936, and raised in Mount Clemens, Mich. The daughter of a restaurateur and a nurse, she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1958 from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and did postgraduate work at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pennsylvania.

Judge Hubbard's path to the bench was somewhat circuitous. After teaching English in the public schools of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and working as a vice principal and social worker, she moved to Baltimore in 1970 with her husband, Robert Hubbard, whom she had married in 1964. Mr. Hubbard, a Baltimore assistant housing commissioner from 1970 to 1973 and later a city official in Wilmington, Del., died in 1992.

After teaching English from 1975 to 1976 at Walbrook Senior High School, she took time off to raise her two sons.

While at home, she decided that she'd like to attend law school and enrolled at the University of Maryland.

"I was surprised to learn that there was a law school in downtown Baltimore. I was interested in learning for learning's sake," Judge Hubbard told The Sun in a 1986 profile.

But by her second year of law school, she was hooked.

"I knew by then they weren't going to just let me read the law. Law school is so seductive. There are very few people, I believe, who can go through law school and not think like a lawyer," she said in the interview.

"She took care of two young boys while going to law school. She just loved it," said a son, Robert C. Young of Washington.

Three years after graduating from law school in 1975 and passing the bar, she became the first woman to be appointed a master in Baltimore's Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, a position she held until she was named a district judge.

When Judge Hubbard was appointed to the Circuit Court in 1985, she replaced Judge Robert B. Watts Sr., the noted civil rights lawyer, and the next year ran successfully for a 15-year term.

During her career, Judge Hubbard earned a reputation for being tough-minded but fair. She was balanced and methodical in her approach when hearing cases, colleagues said.

"I'm the same way when I prepare dinner for company. I decide what I want on the menu and spend two days preparing," Judge Hubbard told The Sun. "I'm the same way when I'm working on a speech. I've spent 10 hours preparing a 30-minute speech. I just want to be right."

"Her term was defined by a lot of criminal cases. I'd sit in her courtroom watching her address uncooperative people, and it was amazing how she could turn them around," Judge Holland said. "She spoke softly but carried a big stick. She knew how to deal with hardened criminals."

"She knew people and how to make decisions in a compassionate way that reflected her respect for them and her love of the law," said state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a former law clerk of Judge Hubbard's.

"I remember in child support cases, she'd order a father who didn't want to pay child support locked up. She'd tell them, `Find someone who loves you.' They would and then the money would come rolling in," she said.

"She really was more like Mother Hubbard, that's what we called her, than Judge Judy," said retired city Circuit Court Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe.

Judge Hubbard knew the value of humor and wit, and enjoyed freely sprinkling her courtroom with witticisms that became known as Hubbardisms.

"One of her favorites was, `If that is true there is not a dog in Georgia,'" said Senator Gladden, who liked to call them Judge Hubbard's "Southern sayings."

When a man appeared in court with a shirt unbuttoned to his navel, Judge Hubbard observed, "Be still my heart. Sir, please button your shirt so I won't be forced to lust after you."

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